An ode to Black Prairie women by Titilope Sonuga
This story is part of the Black on the Prairies project, a collection of articles, personal essays, images and more, exploring the past, present and future of Black life in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Enter the Black on the Prairies project here.
Titilope Sonuga is an award-winning poet, writer and performer who calls both Edmonton, Canada, and Lagos, Nigeria, home.
Only the trees know
what wayward wind buoyed the first one thousand
through river, creek, and muskeg,
feet a calloused bark we peel until the fleshy center.
We count the rings to tell us:
how many lifetimes is the measure
between a stolen land and a stolen people?
What is lost eternally in the currency of the sale?
How many paces is each generation
between limber pine and baobab,
between prairie grass and cotton?
If we ask the sky
whose hands raised in prayer
carried their people across the bridge
from one dream differed into another,
who nursed the children
on the promise of home, a place
of rest and refuge,
it will answer:
in Campsie and Breton,
in Clearview and Amber Valley,
Clyde and Maidstone,
knuckles bloody from begging
bush and meadow
into farmland, fruit,
into a harvest from the labour
of living and loving, of running
from that which will maim and unname,
from all the ways the Black body is undone,
unwound from the spool of its history,
an unravelling for generations to gather.
It is the women,
arriving even now in Edmonton
in Calgary, Winnipeg and Regina,
who touch their hands to the prairie dust
and ask first of the land:
what may I offer?
Who ask first of the people:
where may I flourish?
Who pour the water of their gifts
until an unforgiving winter gives way to spring.
Women who teach the language of resistance
and tally our remembering.
Who birth and bury,
their hands beneath the braiding
and baking, the building, and bracing.
We cannot gather what was lost
beneath the ocean's swell.
We will never know whose baby teeth
line the ocean floor, iridescent as
So, we honour what was before and after the boats,
before and after the hands that spun the globe
and scattered the seeds.
We honour what remains,
the wild push and pull that gathers us here,
our Blackness blooming
against the backdrop of a staggering white.
We honour the song even the meadowlark knows,
a centuries-old melody that gurgles to the surface
to touch the land and call it home.
What we speak in our soukous and ska,
soca, soul, and calypso,
our kompa and afrobeat.
What the women sing into the ears of children
whose dreams take up their rightful place in
the night sky.
Children who say their mothers'
names and close their eyes
The Black on the Prairies project is supported by Being Black in Canada. For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians, check out Being Black in Canada here.